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“Once I started, I discovered that having to know maths to code was a myth”

Imogen Drews went from teaching English in schools to a job as Frontend Developer for a cutting-edge tech firm. This is how she did it.
picture copyright Imogen Drews
Andrea Tallarita
Andrea Tallarita

On a sultry South African autumn of 2017, research intern Imogen Drews closed the script of the sexist beer ad she’d been given, and in that same gesture closed the chapter of her life she had dedicated to the world of film. As a child raised in the metropolis of Johannesburg, she’d dreamt of bringing the stories of South African women to the screen and becoming a film director. One BA in Film & Television and one internship later, however, the realities of the industry had caused that dream to wither inside her.

“In film, it is extremely hard to get to the point where you are actually creating something,” she tells me today. “In fact, that’s what drew me to work in coding. The fact that I can simply create, without hurdles and restrictions.”

Her transition is hardly typical – from studying Film & Television during her university years in South Africa, to working as an au pair and as an English teacher in Europe and China, to being hired as Frontend Developer with Jodocus, a German tech firm.

My subsequent question seems only natural: how on earth did she pull this off?

“Ok, I have to admit I’d never even considered coding as a career option when I was growing up,” she recalls. “It always came across to me as unattainable for someone who isn’t really good at maths, not to mention hugely male-dominated. My high school didn’t offer an IT course of any kind. Basically, it was never shown to me as an option.”

Absent a clear goal after the disappointing experience of her internship, Imogen first did a lot of wandering. Aged 22 she moved to Hamburg, Germany, and worked as an au pair for a family. What was meant to be a relatively tranquil job ended up involving an unwelcome stock of drama, as she found herself on the scene of an ongoing divorce. So she moved again, this time all the way to China, teaching English as a foreign language in Shanghai and, when possible, exploring that enormous, ancient country.

“I was trying to find myself,” she explains. “Yet when I came back to Germany, I was still uncertain.”

When a developer friend in Hamburg first suggested that she consider learning to code, she was initially reluctant. Imogen was teaching English to children at the time, and the idea of leaving the stability of a paid job, especially in the uncertain times of the Covid-19 pandemic, seemed frightening. But the intemperance of an especially unprofessional manager at her school, and the example set by one of her colleagues who went for the techie route, finally persuaded her to take the plunge. After consulting with her developer friend on which course or school would work best for her, she decided for the WBS CODING SCHOOL Fullstack Web & App Developer bootcamp.

Imogen’s comfort in her programmer shoes today belies the impression of coding she’d developed in earlier years, as something that is both impossibly complicated and female-exclusive.

“It helped to be exposed to groups like Women in Tech, Women Who Code, or Girls Who Code,” she explains, “but once I started, I found that notions like coding being only for the mathematically gifted were really just myths. You do have to access a logical mindset to code, sure, but you’re not dealing with numbers all the time. And maths is not really directly used at the coding level, at least not in the creative part of it, which is the one that interests me most.”

This former film intern’s and English teacher’s career has now been completely transformed. I ask Imogen what lesson she draws from her professional metamorphosis, and she pauses for a moment.

“Coding looks super-difficult at first, it’s true,” she says with a beautiful smile. “I remember that I was completely overwhelmed during the first month of the bootcamp. But I kept at it, worked with my instructor and my teammates, and eventually the sense of difficulty melted away. So that would be the lesson I learned, and my advice to others: just don’t be scared.”

Indeed. Don’t be scared.

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